"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
I've wanted to change the title of my blog for a long time ... because even though I loved the quote from C.S. Lewis it came from, I just couldn't help feeling like it was WAY too self-important.
Of course it takes a certain kind of twisted mind to, in an effort to make something sounds less self-important, change a title to something in Latin!
I've been toying with various ideas for a couple months, and this is the one that stayed with me. It's from a couple different sources. It would be cooler and more rc (religiously correct) to say that it came from St. Peter's conversation with the resurrected Christ on the way to Rome (though "where are YOU going?" is the question Peter supposedly asked Jesus then), but the truth is it comes from the final episode of the excellent and short-lived Aaron Sorkin show, Sports Night.
Calvin Trager is not some great philosopher, he's a character that emerges as the show charged toward real-life cancellation. The show, which is about the staff of a SportsCenter-like show, is living in fear because their network is for sale and they figure anyone who buys it is going to sell it -- and them -- for scrap.
Only a new bidder emerges, a strange entity called "Quo Vadimus"... which means "Where are we going?" Around the same time, Dana Whitaker (played wonderfully by Felicity Huffman) begins running into this strange, coy man in a pub down the street who seems to know things about the negotiations before they happen.
That man's name is Calvin Trager, he's a venture capitalist who has made a huge success of himself because instead of being afraid of failure, he has embraced it. Because failure is an opportunity to stop and ask the all-important question "Quo Vadimus" ... "Where are we going?" And so he tells Dana:
"Dana, I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better."
It takes an incredible amount of humility, groundedness and just plain common sense to take that approach to life. And as I've been back-burnering this blog name over the past couple months, that phrase and that philosophy kept coming back to me.
And I've come to believe that Quo Vadimus is at the heart of the Christian faith. We have a faith borne out of failure -- out of Jesus not being crowned king but raised up on a cross. A faith out of which our savior saves us by continually asking us to look at our lives and ask that question: Quo Vadimus. Where are we going?
If arrogance and putting ourselves in the place of God is original sin, then certainly a corrective to that is not fearing failure but embracing it as an opportunity and gift from God. Of continually stopping and re-examining our lives and asking that question -- where are we going? Is it really where we should be going?
But we don't do that. Candidates for public office get roasted over open flame for "flip-flopping" on issues ... and while sometimes that is suitable when the cause is pandering, it creates an environment where self-examination and legitimately changing one's mind is admitting grave weakness. It's given us a president who will still not say the words "I made a mistake." It's given us trench warfare in the church between sides that are so dug into their positions that they refuse to give even an inch to the "other side" for fear of being overrun.
Where are we going?
Bill North once told me that most priest really only have one sermon and they find a way to preach it in lots of different ways. I don't know if that's true or not, but I find as I post my thoughts here, a lot of them have to do with that question -- Quo Vadimus.
A 16-year old boy quotes Martin Luther King to me as he curses what our country is doing to his.
I travel to Ghana, Sudan ... and soon to South Africa and Rwanda ... and see a world where a child dies every three seconds while the wealth and power that could save him is in the hands of so very few. And yet also a world where so many are coming together in hope and joy with the conviction that this deep brokenness is not a death sentence but an opportunity for deep healing.
Abbie Coburn tells of Palestinians who literally live surrounded by walls cut off from their families ... walls built by my tax dollars.
I watch my children grow up, I watch my wife with them, and I know I've never seen anything so beautiful in my whole life. I listen to my son tell me he wants to make a lemonade stand and send the money he makes to the people in Africa I'm going to visit.
I travel around the church and meet amazing people for whom church is not a place they go on Sunday but a community that challenges them and prods them to live their faith out loud in the world. Who look at the movement to make poverty history and respond with a simple "where do I sign up?"
Where are we going is not an easy question to answer. It's probably one of those questions where the point is at least as much in the asking of it than the answering of it.
Sports Night was cancelled ... which allowed Aaron Sorkin to say "quo vadimus" himself ... and develop another project called "The West Wing." (looks like he'll have to do that again after the Studio 60 debacle).
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."